Monday, October 18, 2010

In response to EXILED (The New Yorker)

The photograph of Ashin Issariya (18 October 2010) is beautiful, powerful. Yet, the tone of the short column by Mr. Packer, a writer whom I have long admired, concerns me and prompts this letter. I believe his words play into a failed and failing government policy and serve mainly to exacerbate the serious situation faced by the remarkable people of Myanmar while presenting a one-sided picture of the troublesome situation in that country. Myanmar. The name of the country is no longer Burma. Only a few countries continue to call it that---perhaps in the mistaken belief that to call it Myanmar would suggest that one is not in support of the struggling National League for Democracy nor of its world famous leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. But of course, we are.
The policy of the United States towards Myanmar/Burma is perplexing to this “freelance cultural explorer” who has visited the country numerous times.
Do we truly believe that the imposed sanctions and boycotts have done anything to promote peace, improve prosperity or broaden understanding between our two imperfect countries? Is there a blackout on any news that shows the slightest non-negative light on the actions and policy of the current (unpopular, xenophobic, greedy) regime? It has barely been reported that the Myanmar government, in cooperation with various wildlife organizations, recently created the largest Tiger Reserve in the world—an area the size of Vermont? This is a very good thing.
If, as Mr. Packer reports, “The country’s real leaders remain in prison, in hiding, in exile, under wraps, waiting for their chance.” I ask, is our unrelenting insistence on demonizing every aspect of the current government a way in which we intend to move those disenfranchised/exiled individuals closer to leadership roles in their country?
In the past few years, the United States has built a state-of-the-art Embassy in Yangon (old name Rangoon). Yet we have no Ambassador in place there. There have been small positive moves on the part of the regime to soften some of their past stances. These have been met with skepticism, derision or silence by most of the west. What possible progress towards a more democratic system might we expect by steadfastly condemning the upcoming election as “a sham”? Is anyone in our State Department working to support a more open election?
Political change is possible in Myanmar. It cannot happen over night. Perhaps with a bit of support and a degree of optimism a dangerous, failed state situation in that beleaguered part of our world could be avoided.
Every day, the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Thais and certain multi-national corporations are extracting and exporting the rich resources of that country: natural gas, timber, rubies, produce, art…and all the while we hold fast to a policy that isn’t working satisfactorily for any Party.
I lament the lack of knowledge and the ongoing misinformation that dominates our thinking about Myanmar. Still, I hold a belief that a new policy is possible and would be greatly beneficial.

Linda Durham (
28 Arroyo Calabasas
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87506
505 466 4001/ 466 6600

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